Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The World Encyclopedia of the Film

I love old reference books, for they have a tale to tell.. . . .

This past weekend, I went to the BIG book sale sponsored by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. I go every year, and always make a point of hitting the last day of the sale when every book is $1.00. I always find something - especially on the table of film books. One of the books I found this year was The World Encyclopedia of the Film by Tim Cawkwell and John M. Smith. This over-sized 444 page tome was published in 1972 by the A & W Visual Library. Seeminlgy, this book originated in Great Britian.

I hadn't ever seen this book before, which I guess was why it caught my eye among the numerous celebrity biographies and old works of "film history" published by Barnes, Citadel, Castle, etc.... So, at one dollar, I figured I would take a chance. Text on the back cover claimed it was by far the "most-complete" work of its kind.

What interests me about old reference works is the way in which they reflect the accepted facts and opinions of the time. Take, for example, this brief entry on Louise Brooks. 

Brooks was born in 1906, not 1900. Three of her films from 1927 are not listed, as isn't Empty Saddles from 1936. An emphasis is given to her work as a writer - which is interesting, as the emphasis would shift to her European films within the next decade. And Brooks' German films are listed with their German names, not the more familiar English-language titles. Within the context of this book, Brooks' entry is brief - but at least she is included. Most every film reference work from earlier decades did not include her.

The entry on G.W. Pabst is interesting in a similar way. Now-a-days, most every piece on Pabst begins with his work with Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. Here, those two films - which would soon under-go a revival - are only listed. 

What old reference works tell us is the ever developing history of a thing. I also picked up an early 1980's encyclopedia  of rock music. I noticed right off a near full page entry on Rick Springfield, a performer now not as big as he once was. (I did see him in concert while in college!) Lesson learned: times change, and so do reference works.

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